Simple Gifts

Simple Gifts

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by Chris Raschka
     
 

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The first children's picture book version of a beloved hymn is innovative and irresistible.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down

where we ought to be.

The Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" has inspired many great artists, from Aaron Copland to Martha Graham. Its plain words seem

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Overview

The first children's picture book version of a beloved hymn is innovative and irresistible.

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,

'Tis the gift to come down

where we ought to be.

The Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" has inspired many great artists, from Aaron Copland to Martha Graham. Its plain words seem as much a part of the American landscape as white church steeples, red barns, or Walden Pond. Chris Raschka's inspired art brings to children the true essence of this beloved poem about acceptance and sharing.

Author Biography: Chris Raschka has written and illustrated a number of widely praised picture books. Among them are Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, and Yo! Yes?, which was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1994. His work has been called dynamic, ebullient, and innovative. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
. . .[A] lush, complex, nearly abstract setting of the well-known hymn. . .something of a homage to the work of Paul Klee.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Raschka, one of the reigning risk-takers of the picture book world, undertakes yet another challenge in this interpretation of a traditional Shaker song, albeit less successfully. Using oil crayon on pastel paper, he creates an exceedingly handsome stained glass effect, with heavy black lines juxtaposed against hues as warm as a flurry of autumn leaves. As always, Raschka's vision is unique, and here he translates the Shaker musical paean to a simplified life into a sort of peaceable kingdom, where a cat, blue jay, rabbit, squirrel and turtle dwell together in harmony with nature. The artwork is undeniably glorious, but, as appealing as this serene, spiritual vision is, readers may miss the joy implicit in this Shaker song that is meant for dancing. Adults will likely find themselves drawn to search closely for visual metaphor and meaning, and to reflect on the rather sophisticated ideas in the lyrics ('When true simplicity is gained,/ To bow and to bend/ we shan't be asham'd/ To turn, turn/ will be our delight/ Till by turning, turning/ we come 'round right'). But aside from the pleasing look of the paintings, youngsters may be left a bit at sea. The music to Simple Gifts is included, along with a brief afterword describing the Shaker community.
Children's Literature - Kristin Harris
This Shaker hymn has inspired numerous artists among them are Paul Klee and Chris Raschka who has created this version. The text is in crayon-like script at the bottom or top of each page. The stylized animals and plants that illustrate the text are outlined in black crayon. The colors seem rather somber, but on careful observation that becomes less important as the images are examined they reveal a menagerie of characters. Blue jays, cats, rabbits and turtles all make an appearance. A brief history of the hymn completes the book along with the sheet music.
School Library Journal
Raschka slides easily from a visual interpretation of jazz rhythms (Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop, Mysterious Thelonious) to the soulful strains of a Shaker hymn. He notes inspiration culled from a late painting by Paul Klee. This stylistic choice is surprising and yet perfectly suited to the text. As the pages turn, bold black lines define, in succession, a cat, blue jay, squirrel, turtle, and rabbit in motion against a background of dynamic, geometric shapes that suggest leaves and sunlight. The texture of the pastel paper shows through the oil crayon outlines and sweeps of interior color, adding energy and interest to the design. Most impressive, however, is the way Raschka choreographs the animals through the narrative. An author's note (printed above the melody) explains that the song was originally sung quite rapidly while Shaker men and women danced in circular patterns. Raschka portrays a playful, geometrically jumbled, hide-and-seek scene for the verse, 'And when we find ourselves in the place just right'; then the animals are shown cuddling sweetly in a calmer close-up, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.' He builds a joyous finale of flora and fauna swirling over several pages 'To turn, turn will be our delight.' The hand-lettered, black cursive text against a band of gold or tan provides a fluid, childlike accompaniment that matches the mood and palette of the images to a tee. Simply lovely. -- Wendy Lukehart, Dauphin County Library, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Horn
In the normal course of picture-book events, introducing a cat on the first spread and a bird on the second means that something like a plot is about to come together on the third. Not here, though-the cat and bird are joined by a turtle, a rabbit, and a squirrel to illustrate the optimism of the Shakers 'turning, turning, [to] come 'round right.' Simple Gifts is a simple tune, and it's a proud moment in our cultural heritage that Raschka does right by in his opulent oil-crayon paintings. The pictures boldly define the animals and the natural world with thick black lines that have a kind of magisterial generosity; the autumnal coloring evokes the season of thanks while the bright blue of the bird bestows a celestial glint. With a look that is both humble (the words of the song are printed in a modest crayon-cursive) and knowing (expressionism verging upon abstraction is the visual note here), this book is a beautiful object, although probably of greater appeal to adults than to children. While the song and the paintings both 'come 'round right,' they don't really need each other. One wonders what the Shakers, with their distrust of counterpoint, might have thought.
NY Times Book Review
. . .[A] lush, complex, nearly abstract setting of the well-known hymn. . .something of a homage to the work of Paul Klee.
Kirkus Reviews
Raschka continues his exploration of visualized music, in this case the 150-year-old Shaker hymn of the title. This book may not be as esoteric nor contrapuntal as Mysterious Thelonious (1997), but it is just as gorgeously illustrated. Raschka deploys an elegant palette of blue, yellow, brown, green, and red to fashion close-up, boldly outlined images of creatures—cat, rabbit, bird, turtle, etc.—sharing a landscape tangled with flowers and grasses. It's not too far off the mark to imagine that the great slabs of oil-crayon colors suggest the whirling circle dances of the Shakers, particularly when the hymn is placed in its historical context; there is abundant energy in the artwork, with its undeniable sense of warmth and community. Every spread has a band of color in which Raschka has hand-lettered the words of the song, which is also included with musical notations in an author's note. Ages 5 - 9.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780805051438
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
03/15/1998
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
10.32(w) x 10.38(h) x 0.39(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Chris Raschka won a Caldecott Honor for Yo! Yes?, and is also the illustrator of The Genie in the Jar by Nikki Giovanni. He lives with his wife and son in New York City.

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Simple Gifts 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's the power of the melody and the message that make this book one of my favorites. We found it at the library, I sang it to my daughter, and the next time she heard 'Appalachian Spring' and identified it I knew I had to own it.